Another Personal Note, on My Return

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Welcome back to Spark!  It’s been a while, and I had many adventures that took me away from writing, but it’s time I got back into it.  Since I last ended with a “personal note” explaining my upcoming absence, I’ll return with another such.

I left my writing last year to work for the Hillary Clinton campaign, something that I may write more about in days to come.  Despite the disappointment of the results, the shock and dismay that, yes, people actually did vote for that, I have to say that my time on the campaign was, quite simply, “the toughest job I ever loved.”  I worked 12-16 hour days, every single day for about 80 days in a row.  I met some great volunteers in my area, and some amazing fellow organizers and campaign staff.  Whatever some (including Sen. Bernie Sanders) have said about Hillary suffering an enthusiasm gap, those at least that came to the campaign were very enthusiastic, full of energy, and ready to fight.  In the upcoming couple of years, as my state of Michigan gets ready for a gubernatorial and state senate race (not to mention the race for state and US representatives) in 2018, this kind of enthusiasm will be needed to take back our state government from those, like the DeVos family and the Republican administration of Governor Snyder, who have sold off the public good to the corporate hunger for cheap resources.  Michigan has great Democrats, liberals, progressives, ready to fight for what we believe in and to build our City on a Hill.  This campaign built an amazing team in Michigan, and I was proud to fight alongside them.

After the campaign, I took a brief break, and then was called back by the campaign to work – and then not – on the Michigan vote recount.  Then, again, I went back home and perused my options.  My wife and I took a great trip down south to visit some friends and family in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio.  And I’ve been slowly reinserting myself into the political life by attending events like the huge Rally to Defend Healthcare in Warren, MI, on January 15.  This enormous rally (over 6,000 people braved Michigan’s 20-degree cold for this outdoor event) was addressed by Senators Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Debbie Stabenow, and Gary Peters; various Michigan state and US Representatives; Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood; and many private individuals chosen to share their stories of how the ACA saved their lives.  This coming weekend, my family and friends will be descending on Washington, DC, to protest against the inauguration of He Who Shall Not Be Named.

In the meantime, I’ve been considering other career options, gathering thoughts on the numerous fights to come and which ones to apply my energies.  I did not want to get back in with too much of a “think piece,” instead dipping back in with a soft parade of thoughts about where we go from here.  As many of my campaign comrades are also taking it easy before we all dive back into this year’s local fights (for mayorial and other local campaigns coming up this year, as well as building a resistance mechanism to neutralize the Orange Office before it can get any momentum), I thought about maybe escaping with a movie.  What should we watch?

How about 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate?  Don’t know it?  It’s a fanciful story, something almost impossible to conceive.  A mindless conservative politician turns out to be controlled by political masterminds in Russia, and is Moscow’s tool for turning America from a liberal democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship.  You see,…  Oh.  Awkward.  Okay, right.  Maybe not.

What about Red Dawn, then?  The Russians invade, after the US withdraws from NATO and unsuspectingly opens its doors to its enemy.  What’s that?  Yeah, you’re right.  Also a little too close for comfort.

I guess we should also rule out the 1980s TV miniseries, Amerika.  The US is not so much “invaded,” as relatively peacefully taken over by the Russians and the KGB in the wake of a divisive election and the nation’s failure to remember why it cared so much about maintaining a democratic federal government.  Yeah, not quite what we’re looking for in an “escape.”

Okay, let’s maybe step away from Cold War paranoia.  How about a nice classic like Gone With the Wind?  Can’t go wrong with a multiple Oscar-winner, right?  A nice, relaxing story centering around a romance, that takes place during a turbulent time as our nation is torn between two sides fighting against each other, and systematized racial violence is kept quietly in the background…  Okay, moving on, then.

Maybe instead of a movie, I’ll just watch some TV.  Rather than focus on the present, maybe a nostalgic trip to the past on the History Channel.  Hey, here we go!  A documentary about a demagogic leader in the 1930s rising up amidst a populist movement, having no political leadership experience or knowledge whatsoever, but lying his way to political victory by blaming an ethnic group for his nation’s failure to experience the greatness that it should…  Oh, for the love of…  Really?

It’s like someone was trying to tell us something.  If you want the longer version, you could of course choose to read The Federalist Papers.  But our culture has been warning us for decades against exactly the thing that we let happen last year.  And history has warned us about what happens when we let it go and assume it will all be okay at the end.  What makes things “okay in the end” are the fighters for justice from our history, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose church in Atlanta I had the good fortune to visit last month, and whose mission we celebrated this past week (in the case of our next occupant of the White House, by insulting one of MLK’s most determined allies, Representative John Lewis of Georgia).  And in the end, there is no “end.”  History doesn’t get a period, but an ellipses.  We have to keep fighting, even (especially) when we’ve won a  great victory.  MLK and John Lewis pushed the US into a variety of great reforms (and many half-assed ones); like the Voting Rights Act that last year was emasculated by a Supreme Court that this year (try not throw up) is going to get another justice added to it by our new Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.  A victory won can be lost down the road by complacence.  We have to get back to fighting for the things we’ve won and are about to lose (or already have lost).

Now that I am back, I will be writing more about what we can do in the days ahead, and how we can fight the battles before we lose the war and before our nation sells its soul to its own devils.  As Rachel Maddow likes to say, keep watching this space for more.

Thanks for your patience, and welcome back to Spark!

Headline image: Owen Roper, the author, Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI-D), and Tashawna Gill, on Election Day, 2016.  © Sparkpolitical, 2017.

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A Personal Note to My Readers

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Some of you who have followed Spark! may have noticed a lapse in my writing, for which I blame a combination of personal inertia and a variety of summertime tasks otherwise consuming my time.  However, over the past month, I have pursued an opportunity to work for the Clinton campaign in my home state, and I have accepted an offer from the campaign.  The demands of the position are very great, and sadly I will probably be unable to make further contributions until after the election in November.  I therefore would like to thank those of you who have followed, “liked,” or commented on my posts; and I hope that you will continue to do so when I return to my writing after the election.

For those of you who are also used to my presence in reading and liking and commenting on your own blogs as well, please do not feel offended by my disappearance from your blogs.  I simply will not have the time to appreciate your offerings until November, but I eagerly look forward to returning with a vengeance after that point.

Please, everybody:  Remember to cast your vote in November.  As I disappear into the ranks of Clinton’s campaign organization, let me make a last plea for that vote to be for the candidate I feel is the best able to steer the helm of our ship of state to the correct course: the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton.  It is also every bit as vital that you all vote in your local and state elections, and for your congressional representation in Washington, to take back our rights from the entrenched conservative political machine.

Thanks for your support, everybody.  Good luck to all of you, and I hope to see you all (on the internet, at least) in November!

Headline photo, Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) and myself earlier this year at the Flint, MI campaign office, before Michigan’s primary in March. © 2016, Sparkpolitical.

Trump and the “Second Amendment People”

A campaign that has effectively made it a policy to shock the American people on a daily basis made what some critics might call a “gaff” this past Tuesday, when he seemed to imply the use of force by private citizens in case Hillary Clinton is elected in November.

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump muttered in his standard stream of unconsciousness that has become his trademark oratorical style.

Was Trump really implying that people take matters into their own hands when Clinton starts to put her judges on the bench (either to assassinate the president, or her judges)?  Obviously the campaign says that it was “sarcastic,” “a joke.”  This sarcastic joke emanated from a campaign whose key link to the people has been the idea that Trump “speaks his mind,” and “says what he means.”  Well, once again we have to ask:  does he or doesn’t he?

In fact, Trump never used the actual words, never included a verb; not unusual for a man whose “speeches” rarely involve sentences that any English teacher would let by without a generous use of the infamous red pen.  Instead, he said something without saying anything; and his campaign has implied that perhaps Trump was talking about the “second amendment people” uniting politically to pressure the government not to name or confirm certain judges not passing the right’s own tests for political correctness.  But we also have to realize that Trump has raised a violent force, a party not unlike the brown-shirts of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, willing and able to follow the leader’s exhortations to violence.  Certainly such “implications” were followed by conservative followers in the past, as when after Sarah Palin put Rep. Gabby Giffords’s name on a “target list,” Giffords was, in fact, shot.  And if the college-educated reporters and leaders of the nation can see the threat of violence in the ambiguity of the words, what must the people whom Trump has congratulated for being “poorly educated” read into those words?  Trump can pretend a “plausible deniability” when someone takes a potshot at either Clinton or a justice whom she appoints; but that will not separate him from the blame behind such an act if it occurs.

Another, darker problem lurks behind the “gaff.”  Trump claims, and his followers accept unquestionably, two problematic axioms:  first, that Hillary Clinton is opposed to the Second Amendment; and second, that he himself will support and somehow strengthen the Second Amendment (as shaky and weak as he implies it is, what with mass shootings and demonstrations of open carrying of military-style weapons being merely a daily occurrence).  Both contentions are, of course, ridiculous.  Clinton has never opposed the Second Amendment, or the implied right to own firearms; and in fact she has on numerous occasions said the opposite.  Obviously Trump’s opponents do not so much care about Clinton’s words, as they do not trust anything that she says anyway.  Equally ridiculous is the notion that a candidate without a shade of understanding of basic constitutional principles, and who as a businessman has made much of his wealth by breaking contracts, could be trusted to preserve what many consider to be a basic constitutional right.  Again, however, the shakiness of such a notion is missed by the masses who care nothing of Trump’s record of failure and unreliability.  The dog whistle sounds the alarm of the Second Amendment, and the dogs then howl as required.

Another problem, one often ignored even by politicians like President Obama and Secretary Clinton, is the actual right provided by the Second Amendment – or more accurately, the right not so provided.  The words of the Amendment, words that have troubled scholars to elucidate for others, are as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What most readers miss is the fact that no rights of the individual are recognized or provided by this amendment.  The gun-owner clings to his gun on the basis of “the right of the people”; but in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), as well as in the Federalist Papers, written by three of the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the rights of “the people” are not the same rights as those for the individual.  The framers referred to “the people” as the embodiment of popular power; be that the elected governments of the several states, or other corporate bodies of popular power.  Whenever the framers wished to make abundantly clear to the reader that a right was for individuals, they named individuals, or left vague references to “the people” out entirely.  The right to protection against quartering is secured for “the Owner [of a house]”; trial rights are secured for “the accused”; other rights are promised to “persons” (individuals).  The right to freedom from government interference in speech and religion simply denies the government a right to make laws at all, without referencing either individuals or “the people.”  Nowhere in the Second Amendment do the framers actually suggest that individuals themselves have any specified rights under that act.  The right of the people to keep and bear arms is the right of the states, separate from the federal authority of the US Government.  The Second Amendment promised the states that they could and should maintain “well-regulated militia” for their own security, both from foreign invasion as well as from each other’s militia and from federal measures of force in their territories.

All references by the framers to “the people” were to corporate entities, not individuals.  In fact, that reference created animosity by such leaders as Patrick Henry who saw in the very preamble of the Constitution that the words “We the People” were written by delegates to the Constitutional Convention as selected by the states’ governments, and were not in fact representatives of the people themselves, let alone free individuals speaking solely for themselves.  “We the People” were the states.  The rights of “the people” were the rights of the states, not the rights of the individual inhabitants of the states.  It is also true that at the time, most states had militia based on private owners of their own weapons (in addition to every state maintaining central arsenals of both artillery and extra infantry weapons, the latter for those soldiers who had none of their own or lost theirs in combat).  Private ownership of weapons was preferred by the states as a means of reducing the cost of maintaining public arsenals.  But the Second Amendment does not specify that private ownership itself is either sufficient or necessary to the defense of a state.  Instead, the presence of a state-run and well-regulated militia is needed for state defense.  The states insisted on their rights to protect themselves from each other (at a time when state animosities toward each other was quite high, and many border and trade issues unresolved), and from a larger federal military (which the framers argued in the Federalist Papers to be more conducive to a credible deterrence of external aggression, but which could also be used by a tyrannical central authority to force undesired measures upon the states).

However, the Constitution is not merely a historical document, but a living contract subject to interpretation by the US Supreme Court.  What the Court ultimately says about the Constitution, and about how the rights therein are to be protected or interpreted, determines what the Constitution is for those to whom the Court’s musings apply.  In Heller v District of Columbia, in 2003, the Court finally decided that the Amendment does indeed guarantee the individual a right to own a firearm, separate from any need of state or federal regulation of militia, and separate from the use of such firearms for the security of the states.  For now, regardless of what our framers meant by “the people,” “the people” are indeed the individual citizens of the nation.  And both the militia clause and the security clause are considered inoperative and irrelevant to the rights of the individual.  The Court has overturned its own decisions before; and therefore at some point a future Court may well decide either to reattach the militia and/or security clauses to the right, and/or to define that right as not individual but corporate.  However, that is for the future.

In the meantime, we have a problem of who exactly the “second amendment people” are, the people vaguely referenced to in Trump’s distorted mutterings.  Are they gun owners, or the NRA (who consider themselves to be a constitutional rights advocate), or the gun industry (notwithstanding the NRA’s role as the industry’s chief corporate lobbyist)?  Who are these people to whom Trump held his hand to say, “maybe there is,… I don’t know”?  He himself obviously would have a difficult time answering that question, although the ease with which he can accept endorsements and donations from the gun lobby is unquestionable.  Trump’s failure to know what even he is saying as he may, or not, be saying it, is frightening in what those who follow him may decide that he was saying (such as the followers who easily obeyed Palin’s later denied exhortations to shoot people like Gabby Giffords).  But Trump’s failure to know what even he means is even more frightening as we envision a nation presided by a man exhibiting clear symptoms of dementia and who (unlike Pence, who some have hinted might be more responsible for certain governing roles), would actually have control of our nuclear codes.  If the missile hatches are ever opened, we need a leader to know what she says, what she means, what she expects from her supporters and from the nation, and what the nation that elected her stands for and expects from her.  Trump is unquestionably not that leader.

The Third-Party Option is Not a “Conscience Vote”

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Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

blogger Clay Shirky

Blogger Clay Shirky (not connected to WordPress) makes an effective argument for why voting for third parties in the US, or simply not voting, are not effective uses of the “protest vote.”  The voters may not like living in a two-party system; but pretending that they do not is unrealistic and ineffective.  It also reinforces the precise electoral system that they might hope to change through their “protest.”  See Clay Shirky’s argument in more detail here.

Headline image from the BBC News.

one August day, 1945

With the anniversary of the atom bomb attacks of 1945 having just passed, it is worth taking a moment to see them from the innocents who suffered from them.

What does nelkumi think?

A siren pierces my ears. Planes zip above my head.

I run, zigzagging, hiding behind trees.

A loud explosion stops me. I turn around and see a bright ray penetrate the sky.

Then, I hear the sound of rumble. Houses, buildings, and poles crumble down onto earth, leaving me in darkness.

Without being able to see, I start to hear voices. Cries and whimpers. “Help me.” “It hurts.”

People begin to emerge from behind the thick curtain of dust and smoke. Some have pieces of glass stuck in them, bleeding. Others have their torn and blood-red flesh hanging from their bodies.

Many lie asking for water. Once they finish gulping water, they expire.

Hospitals and infrastructure are gone, and deceased and injured converge. I cannot even recognize some, and numbness takes over.

When dusk comes on, I see the town drowned in red flame, which wouldn’t cease for nights and…

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How It Happens

In the 1800s, political combat in Germany helped form conflicting political ideologies, including modern liberalism, Marxist communism, Nietzchian conservatism, and the seeds of Nazism.  A century of national and international struggle, within Germany and without, put Hitler into the chancellery in 1933.  Today, it is all too easy to see Hitler as inevitable for 1930s Germany, and to forget the liberal German philosophies opposed to Nazism and the constitutional strengths of both imperial Germany and the Weimar republic.

The United States now finds itself in a situation in many ways resembling Germany in 1933, with the fascists now effectively in control of a major political party, and that party ignoring or even celebrating their links to avowed racists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and religious fascists.  The Democrats are attempting to rally the forces of American democracy against the new specter of fascism; but right now the polls indicate that the US lies on a precipice overlooking an unprecedented national catastrophe.

Is this an exaggeration of our national situation?  Would Donald Trump, if elected president, really present a threat to our republic?  The Republican Party itself has long predicted disaster that would emanate from Democratic presidencies, particularly the apocalyptic warnings that those like Trump made about President Obama and now about Hillary Clinton.  Are we on the Left overreacting and simply repeating the GOP’s own ridiculous exaggerations, allowing the last adult in the conversation to reduce himself to the uneducated mutterings of the other children?  Can we perhaps relax and presume that while Trump would steer the nation away from our record of progress and success, the republic is strong enough to survive him?

These same questions were asked by Germans on the eve of, and just after, Hitler’s ascendance to the chancellery.  A nation which had long inspired the world with its liberal visions, and had also infused politics with more radical philosophies like socialism and communism, saw Hitler’s power as a survivable necessity, something that would be a defeat for the forces against him but which could nonetheless experience some measure of success and which certainly would soon see other, more reasonable forces back in power.  But unlike the failure of American Democrats to live up to Trump’s and other Republicans’ warnings, Hitler and his movement showed German liberals and moderates and even conservatives what comes from underestimating a demagogue with a strong, populist backing.  Those liberal, moderate, and conservative voices quickly found themselves in “protective custody” in Dachau and elsewhere.

Germany’s Weimar government did not provide for the powers of a führer, and the powers of Chancellor were in fact quite limited.  These limitations on power did not stop a man “speaking plainly,” or his followers, from using legitimate powers of government to expand Hitler’s political authority until there was nothing left of the Weimar constitution.  This is the danger we must be wary of with Trump.  The US Constitution limits and checks the powers of the presidency; but Trump now has a viable path from these limitations and checks to the unlimited powers of dictatorship.  This is not a threat to be taken lightly.

The threat posed by Trump consists first of the nature of his rise to power, and second of the weaknesses our system has for preventing a dictator from gaining power through the electoral process.  First, Trump himself has not shied away from evoking an image of himself as führer, from the Nazi-style salute used at his rallies, or his deleted tweet of German SS re-enactors paired with his face on the American flag, to his calls for violence to be part of the political process (promising to pay the legal fees of supporters employing violence at his rallies, saying he would himself like to punch the detractors, etc.).  But Trump’s Hitlerian vision go far beyond enjoying displays of Nazi rally techniques.  Trump seeks to control the press, a control at times resisted and later succumbed to by the chief conservative agitprop outlet, Fox News.  Trump gained popularity among his fascist base not only by attacking fellow conservative TV personality Megyn Kelly with grotesquely misogynist reductions but also through his degrading mockery of a disabled journalist, Serge Kovaleski.  Trump showed other journalists that he would accept no one falling outside his own eugenically limited definition of humanity, and he seeks to limit thereby the presence of nonconformist and non-fascist media.  He continues to try to control the press through a multitude of actions, like lawsuits, blacklists, and insults; and he seeks to reduce reporters’ First Amendments rights to free speech and freedom of the press.

Trump’s nomination also saw Hitlerian and unconstitutional calls (championed by Governor Chris Christie) to jail their political opposition.  Christie’s own experience as a prosecutor ought to have dissuaded a less opportunistic and cynical jurist from a mob-justice, call-and-response conviction based solely on fact-free expressions of wrath toward a woman daring to enter the male-dominated field of politics.  Jailing leaders of the opposition on propped-up charges, or on no charges at all, was a chief, early tactic of the Nazis, even before they gained full control of the government.  Were Trump to gain the presidency, his “law and order candidacy” suggests that not just Clinton, but all vocal opposition would soon find themselves in jail, regardless of the nation’s established justice procedures.

Trump has called for mass deportations of undocumented workers, and for a registry of American Muslims, both of which evoke early Nazi moves toward “purifying” the nation’s racial profile.  The uncontested popularity of these suggestions with white supremacists and with ultranationalists both in the US and overseas, shows the frightening sync between Trump’s new order of fascism and Hitler’s old scheme.  The unconstitutionality of his suggestions bother neither himself, his advisors, the GOP now that he has been nominated (disregarding some bickering and whining before they knelt before him to crown him as their führer), or the extremist fascists who form his base.  Trump’s racist proposals, and his violently racist followers, show clearly the nature of the neo-racist state that they hope to build across the nation in our hallowed halls of federal, state, and local government, and disregarding all parts of the Constitution with the exception (for the moment, at least) of the Second Amendment.  The fascism of Trump and his supporters is frightening and indisputable, presenting a nauseatingly long list of offenses committed openly and on purpose, to expand the envelope of publicly allowable violence and hatred perpetrated against fellow Americans.

With a republic over 240 years old, and with multiple checks and balances acting on the federal presidency, how could Trump possibly warp the powers of the presidency into a dictatorship?  The same process that Hitler used would serve Trump or any other demagogue to bypass the Constitution.

First, now that he is the official nominee, Trump is also the new leader of the Republican Party.  He can now begin reforming the party, executing at will his own “Night of the Long Knives” to ensure Republican compliance.  Certain political measures might wait until after the election, to encourage moderate independents to vote for him in November.  After the election, however, Trump can begin pruning moderates and conservatives from the party, completing its transformation into an extremist party more in line with his hunger for power.

Second, the next president has an immediate vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court, due to Scalia’s death and to the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of the constitutionally mandated processes of government.  Trump, if elected, would fill that slot as one of his first presidential acts, putting on the bench someone he knows would support his unconstitutional approaches to government.  In addition, leading liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, and centrist justice Anthony Kennedy is 80.  They are the next likely justices to retire or die on the bench, and their seats may both potentially need filling during the next term of president.  Putting three “trumpets” on the bench to ensure that no challenges to Trump’s contempt for constitutional law survive, Trump can effectively operate without fear of a SCOTUS overturn; and he can also stamp the next 20-30 years of American jurisprudence with his sad little brand and his extremist vision.

Third, having greater control of a more conformist and extremist Congress (through greater control of the Republican Party), and a more conformist and extremist Supreme Court, Trump can also solidify extremist control of state and federal district gerrymandering to further their gains, to cement their control of districts, and to divide opposition communities from within and keep them electing conformist, extremist Republicans.  SCOTUS will continue to strip voting protections from minorities and from women, and will solidify extremist voting results.  No Republican would dare stand in the way of such an onslaught; fearing if not for their lives than at least for their careers and political relevance.  And whenever Trump chooses, he can simply ignore whatever provisions of the Constitution he wishes, with neither his puppet Congress or his puppet Court opposing him.

Finally, if these measures do not appeal enough to his entitled yearning for adulation and obedience, then there is always the Reichstag fire.  Trump continues to fan the flames of hatred; and he continues to urge greater veneration of gun ownership and public carrying.  These two weaknesses together guarantee a growth of domestic lawlessness and terror under a Trump regime.  It will be easy either to engineer a staged incident or to encourage or exploit a real one, and then to call for “emergency measures” that, as in Germany, only “temporarily” suspend the Constitution.  With his opponents in jail, with Congress and the Court dominated by his puppets, no one would be left with the power and will to keep such “measures” from happening, or to ensure that they are “temporary.”  The “emergency” will be the duration of Trump’s regime; a duration that then can also be maintained for as long as Trump sees fit to remain in power.

Is this an extreme view of Trump’s vision and the threat posed by him to our republic?  It is intended to be.  Have other, reasonable politicians been accused by Republicans in Godwinite exaggerations of being “Hitler,” with no validity?  They have, indeed.  But Republicans do not get a “nominate Hitler for free” card by painting Hitler mustaches on President Obama’s likeness, or by confusing the provision of health care with the Holocaust or with slavery.  Such extremist ridiculousness does not mean that when a real wolf finally shows up, we have to let the sheep keep sleeping.  When the boy cries, “Wolf!”, we have to at least stop to consider whether a wolf is in fact present.  Trump has angered people of all “races” (including “white”), all genders and identities (including male and straight), all religions (including Christian), and all political thoughts (including conservatives and Republicans) with his extremist voice, and with that of his followers; and with his extremist approach to law and to contracts; and with his extremist style of “debating” and campaigning.  Godwin has left the building; and Hitler is threatening to break out of Trump’s ridiculous hairdo.  Trump may have no intention of going anywhere as far as I have suggested; but he can, and can we afford to risk that?  Should we risk that?  There may not be an apocalypse around the corner.  But as the missiles are armed and the launch hatches opened, should we not consider the possibility that this just might be our last real election if we do not stop this idiocy right this very moment?

Headline image from Huffington Post blog, “Donald Trump: The Man, the Candidate, the President,” 2/15/16.

 

 

Vetting Donald Trump

The full contempt that Trump has for the United States is difficult to encapsulate; but Rick Cooley takes an impressive shot at it:

Rcooley123's Blog

The Republican National Convention has come and gone (thankfully). Donald Trump is now the official Republican nominee for the position of next President of the USA, his trusted running mate, soon to be former Governor Mike Pence of Indiana by his side. The rough and tumble days of the primary campaign behind him, Trump promises to bring his mudslinging talents to unprecedented heights against his main general election contender, Hillary Clinton (pending, of course, her nearly certain nomination at the upcoming Democratic National Convention).

Aside from his acerbic manner and penchant for flinging biting insults at anyone and everything that he perceives as standing between himself and his current goals, Trump has earned his Party’s nomination by gathering a following among disenchanted voters ignored too long by GOP establishment politicians. Stoking populist sentiments by vilifying members of just about every interest group other than white males, Trump has been promising…

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A Vacation, a Reflection, and a Choice

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And Spark! returns!

Over the past two weeks, my wife and I celebrated our nation’s 240th birthday by touring New England, with visits to Boston (where we observed the city’s July 4th fireworks show from the Charles River), Salem and its witch museum, and Rhode Island.  In Boston, we also walked the Freedom Trail, seeing Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church (notice the plaque in the headline image).  We visited a replica tea ship, of the type also visited in the Boston Tea Party, and we stood beneath the balcony at which Bostonians first learned of the Declaration of Independence signed in Philadelphia.

On our way back home to Michigan, we stopped in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to tour the battlefield for several days, paying respect to another national birthday that occurred some four score and seven years later.  While our vacation was an immersion into the past, we have resurfaced to link that past to our nation’s present and future.

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Immersing ourselves especially into two tumultuous events of American history, the Revolution and the Civil War, it was easy to be torn emotionally between the passion and vision of the former, and the bloodshed and controversy of the latter.  With these two events solidly in our minds, we perceived the great promise of America: that all people are created equal, and that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights.  We also perceived that, 87 years after those words were written down, one of our nation’s bloodiest battles was fought between Americans holding two uniquely distinct translations of those words.  While our Gettysburg experience did not touch deeply on the Reconstruction, its failure to change the South, or another revolution a century later whose results even today are contested in our legislatures and courts, we do know that the blood spilled on the soils around Gettysburg, soils walked by our own feet these past two weeks, has yet to be redeemed by a nation struggling still with its racial identity.

These two monumental events, the Revolution and the Civil War, show a nation with both a great promise and a great reluctance to live up to that promise.  Indeed, on and around July 4, there was much flag-waving, much hurrahing, much fanfare over the “greatness” of our nation, but little public forum on the qualities that define that greatness, or the characteristics that argue its veracity.  We Americans love to fly our flag, to put our hand on heart and look optimistically forward.  We love to cite our rich, white, male founding fathers and their utopian vision of something called “equality.”  But blood was spilled over the meaning of those very words, in 1776, and into the 1780s; in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s; and in the 1960s.  Blood is still being spilled, between police officers and the communities they “serve and protect,” and at Trump rallies calling for another quality called “greatness.”

Our trip to Salem also illustrated our nation’s capacity for self-fear, self-loathing, and witch hunts (both metaphorical and real).  We love to point fingers, assign blame, to stick our nose in others’ affairs.  Persecution, witch hunts, suspicion, and xenophobia are every bit as much American as our inspirational founding phrases; and they are, to many of us, a great deal more real than are those idealistic words written down by a privileged few.

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The witch trials, the Revolution, and the Civil War all show Americans as an emotional people, who at key moments in our history march forward with pitchforks, muskets, cannon, and rifles, and fight out our differences, spilling blood and ending lives rather more effectively than we decide the debates that trigger such bloodshed.  This emotionalism also surrounds other acts, like John Winthrop’s proclamation of our liberal imperative to build the “shining City on a Hill.”  This emotionalism has gathered new forces of hatred and ignorance in today’s politics, shaped by a conservative media machine feeding factually deprived constructions of current and past events to an audience ever more hungry for factless validation.  Even the Left has been tainted by such unnerving and baseless propaganda, with an entire #NeverHillary force built up on unfounded conservative rhetoric fed to new voters unmotivated to investigate affairs for themselves, and hungry for information that requires no personal efforts at vetting, objectivity, or reason.

Now, with America’s failed foreign policies of oil-based imperialism to blame for the construction of new forces of terror, with a populace living in an historically low-crime era but increasingly frightened by the conservative media and the NRA into needing ever more destructive private arsenals, with the police militarizing and displaying an overtly racial application of “community policing,” our nation has become frightened, angry, resentful, suspicious.  While polls indicate that the voters continue to understand the dangers of having too many guns available in a culture unwilling to fund schools and work programs, a divide separates that population from the “representative government” of a Republican Party whose campaigns are funded by the makers of those guns.  Fear, anger, resentment, and suspicion do not mix well with large, military-style arsenals, whether owned privately or by the police.  Our nation’s emotionalism would not carry quite the danger of continued bloodshed if our society were not so dangerously over-armed.

Our nation is now, once again, at a cusp.  We face changes in our party structure just as we did on the eve of the Civil War, in the two major parties that have dominated political issues since that war.  We face a Democratic Party struggling for legitimacy among an ever more restless youth (with ever bleaker economic prospects), and struggling to retain its traditional strength among women and minorities (racial, religious, and identity-based).  We face a Republican Party struggling for relevance as new demographics shift presidential elections away from an increasingly white-men-only party, but which continues to dominate, through gerrymandering and corporate campaign financing, congressional elections.  We face a populace tired of both parties, tired of choices that seem like the “lesser of two evils.”  And at the end of the 2016 primary season, we face a critical choice between two different parties, two very different candidates, and two fundamentally different visions of America.

Notwithstanding the always intriguing prospect of a third party (easily dismissed due to the failure of our smaller parties to build local and state-level constituencies, a historically necessary first step in new party formation before jumping to the presidential run), Americans have a choice between two candidates hated by the other side, and also distrusted by many independents.  But having two flawed candidates is not the same as not having a clear or valid choice.  Candidates are human beings, as much as we try to elevate them to messianic or satanic purity in trying times like today.  Voters can, must, and do accept candidates with flaws in order to find the best of the necessarily imperfect choices for the job.  In 2016 that choice is a clear one.  On the one hand, the Democrats have selected a lawyer who has helped poor and minority families, who has consistently pushed the nation toward a greater commitment to health care, who has helped build partnerships with foreign governments and with fighters for democracy like Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.  Clinton’s record is not perfectly consistent (any more than is Senator Sanders’s, or Trump’s); and the conservative propaganda-and-government complex has invested millions of dollars, both public and private, to heap distrust and contempt upon a candidate whom they fear may be able to get results and turn the helm to the left.  On the other hand, America can elevate an inherited billionaire who has never earned the public’s trust, who has never held a public position, elected or appointed, who has failed in venture after venture after venture (only saved from financial ruin by his family’s deep treasure of stored wealth), who has shifted the very jobs of those shouting his name to China and claims now that he will somehow get them back (without bothering to elucidate on the details), who attacks Americans and foreigners alike, who defecates upon our nation’s most treasured values and our long history of depending on immigrants and refugees to build our nation.  We can elect a candidate embraced by the many peoples of our land; or we can wish vainly and with no prospect of success to make America white and patriarchal and frightened and suspicious again.

In the end, however, our choice is not just between two candidates.  Our choice, like those faced in 1776 and 1860 and 1964 and in so many other moments of our history, is between succumbing to fear and hatred, distrust and violence, on the one hand; or embracing the promise of our nation, the liberal imperative toward the City on a Hill, accepting the challenges bravely and together, as a nation of many peoples.  We the People can form a more perfect Union; or we can succumb to our fears, breaking ourselves morally, economically, and politically in trying to replicate a Roman Empire by propping up a corroding and bankrupt Pax Americana.

All images © Sparkpolitical, 2016.

After a Rough Week, A Joke

It’s been a rough week in the political world, so before we dive back in and examine the unpleasantness of it all, for this week’s Quote of the Week, we give you just a little joke. Have a good week.

Heaven Is Where:

The French are the chefs

The Italians are the lovers

The British are the police

The Germans are the mechanics

And the Swiss make everything run on time.

 

Hell is Where:

The British are the chefs

The Swiss are the lovers

The French are the mechanics

The Italians make everything run on time

And the Germans are the police.

The original author of the joke is unknown.  There have, by the way, been some modified versions (for example, having the French and Italians exchange their roles in “Heaven”), but you get the point.

Why We Fight; and How We Will Win

no to terroris

When philosopher Erich Fromm introduced George Orwell’s novel 1984, he warned readers that the book was not about the Soviet Union and life under communism.  1984 was about the West, about democracy and the ease with which it can turn itself into dictatorship by succumbing to fear and hatred.  The novel was Orwell’s warning that in the conflict between the western democracies and the communism of the Eastern Bloc, both systems would become less distinct, more like each other.  Eventually, in fighting an ideological struggle, democracy would become more ideologically orthodox, more totalitarian.  Communism would for its part borrow ever more the Western language of liberation and freedom.  Orwell and Fromm both argued that, in ideological conflict, the main danger is not being defeated from the outside by the enemy.  The main danger is that in fighting their enemy, each side will assume the characteristics of the other until the struggle becomes only a semantic excuse for a fight over power, pure and simple.

The US has entered a new ideological struggle, this time against ISIS, an incoherent network of extremists who share a radical perversion of Islam (arguably an anti-Islamic vision), who have opened their arms to the disgruntled peoples of the world in the hopes of fomenting violence against their enemy.  ISIS’s enemy is the Muslim community; a community whose nations universally reject the pretended “state” and its “message.”  The Muslims of Syria and Iraq have formed an even more incoherent “alliance” of sorts, with Shi’a and Sunnis fighting seemingly side by side (or at least against the same opponent) to dislodge ISIS from its power base.  That power base was constructed in the vacuum of power created by Bush’s dissolution of the Iraqi Army in 2003.  The base was greatly strengthened after the Arab Spring, which briefly united many Arabs and Muslims of diverse beliefs and political views against corrupt governments like that of Egypt and brutal dictatorships like that of Syria.  ISIS called on extremists to reject the democratic principles that some Arab leaders promoted during the Spring, and instead to embrace a doctrine of fear, anger, and hatred toward those outside of their bubble.  They have warred against minorities like the Kurds and Yazidis, they have foisted a rape state of brutal sexual slavery upon women, and they have even looted and destroyed Arab, Muslim, and Christian cultural landmarks for profit and for attention.

Furthermore, as ISIS’s initial success in capturing a territorial base has now resulted in an alliance of forces steadily taking back that territory from them, ISIS is turning ever more to a strategy of “decentralized terror” against external forces predominant in aiding their chief Muslim enemies, especially Russia, Western Europe, and the US.  ISIS has reached out to other extremist groups throughout the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere to create an image of a “network” of groups that were already using terror to war against the forces of reason and community.  This network is a momentary alliance of groups that have shifted their alliances among groups like al Qaeda, and represent not a growth of ISIS, but an “alliance” of convenience between groups already extant and active.  Finally, ISIS has called on those outside the organization to “come to the dark side,” to commit terror in ISIS’s name regardless of their lack of actual connections to the organization.  This call has been answered in places like Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando, where disgruntled people suddenly proclaimed “allegiance” to the group, an “allegiance” eagerly accepted by ISIS as a cost-free means of confusing their enemies into thinking that they are more widespread, embedded, and powerful than they are.

ISIS is using these tactics to build a regime of hatred, racism, and fear.  They hate Muslims who are not committed to their vision; and they of course also hate infidels and foreigners for the same reason.  They perpetrate racism against groups within and near their area of control in Syria and Iraq, and they perpetrate rape and slavery against women.  They work strenuously to frighten those in their base area to remain quiet about the extremist “state” that they are trying to establish, and to frighten those outside their power into doing their bidding.  Their chief external aim is to force other societies into more extreme anti-Muslim positions, to convince Muslims that their only viable option for retaining their Muslim identity is to embrace ISIS radicalism.  Those foreign leaders who do ISIS’s bidding; who follow ISIS’s game-plan by fomenting suspicion, fear, and hatred of Muslims; are helping to prop up ISIS’s failing outhouse of orthodoxy, and are keeping ISIS’s enemies from achieving victory.  Those leaders are building, both in their states, as well as in ISIS, a larger world dis-community of hatred, racism, and fear.

This is the enemy against which the US is poised.  In view of this enemy, Orwell’s and Fromm’s arguments from 1984 have become no less relevant today than they were in 1948.  In fighting ISIS, some like Donald Trump have sought to do exactly that which ISIS requires of them, and exactly that against which Orwell and Fromm warned us.  Trump seeks to “fight” ISIS by transforming the US into another version of ISIS, to transform the thing ISIS hates into the thing ISIS is trying to build:  a world regime of hatred, racism, brutality, and fear.  Trump followed the recent Orlando atrocity not with kind words and praise for the victims, but with calls for ever more astringent measures directed solely at Muslims, exactly the response ISIS hopes such actions will inspire.  Trump could not have followed ISIS’s playbook more faithfully if he were directly in their pay.

The response of Democrats (and even some Republicans) to Trump’s partnership with ISIS, however, reflected the better angels of America’s “shining City on a Hill.”  Democrats like President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and Republicans like Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, condemned Trump’s inexcusable partnership with our enemies, declaring that the US was not about to turn aside from its historical legacy of building a greater community from diverse peoples, or from America’s record of taking in refugees and immigrants as new builders of our nation.  The legitimacy of our City is best exemplified in the fight with ISIS by a specific strength which Trump even denied without any factual basis.  The FBI has repeatedly reported that the American Muslim community continues to serve as the nation’s best early warning system against terror attacks, helping enormously to keep such incidents to a minimum.  Trump simply ignored our law enforcement and intelligence specialists, and the abundantly available facts, blaming Muslims for not supporting law enforcement or working with the government.  These unfounded verbal attacks by Trump on Muslims, for not doing exactly what our intelligence and law officials say that they have been doing exceedingly well, are not only “uninformed” or ridiculous.  They are seditious, slanderous, and dangerous to our established, effective, and functioning security system.

During the Cold War, the US on any number of occasions succumbed to the temptations of Orwell’s warning.  The US blacklisted Communists (real and alleged), imprisoned some just for their political views, maintained surveillance against civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., put out of work people who espoused nonconformist views as when Muhammad Ali was denied his boxing awards and credentials for his anti-war views.  Ultimately, however, such tactics did not weaken the Soviet Union, strengthen the US, or lead to any victory.  Instead, the Soviet Union was weakened by democratic forces eating away at it from the inside, by pin pricks of republican values as Americans engaged with the Soviets in travel, commerce, and science.  The US welcomed Soviet citizens seeking refuge like writers Vladimir Nabokov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who became leading voices for Soviet nonconformists seeking an alternative vision for their society.  It was the best liberal traditions of our City on a Hill that pushed the Soviet Union over the cliff, not the worst moments of emulating our adversary.  Our victory over ISIS, once we have achieved it, will be no different.  Becoming like unto them will only strengthen them.  Our best liberal values are exactly what ISIS is working to undermine; and extremist thugs like Trump who help them will not “win” anything other than a fuller ISIS entrenchment.

Our liberal traditions, the vision of the City on a Hill, are Why We Fight; but they are also how we must fight if we are to win, and if a victory is to mean anything other than a closer partnership with our enemies.

Headline image posted on imamsonline.com, “Islamic Scholars Must Unite to Combat Extremism.”